Ellison wins grant to study college readiness apps

UMSI associate professor Nicole Ellison has received a $250,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the King Center Charter School (KCCS) to study the effectiveness of Facebook apps developed to help students apply to, attend and stay in college.

The apps were developed for the College Knowledge Challenge, a competitive grant initiative that was launched in September 2012 by the Gates Foundation, KCCS and College Summit, and tasked recipients with developing applications to make the college-going process more transparent, cooperative, and easy to navigate for low-income and first-generation students. The program led to the launch of 19 new online and mobile apps in October 2013.

Ellison will be working with Purdue University’s Rey Junco on this two-year study to evaluate the ability of these apps to influence users’ college aspirations, perceptions of social capital, college enrollment behavior, and financial aid application efforts. Ellison’s team will collect survey and use data from users who voluntarily downloaded the apps and analyze that to look for a relationship between usage patterns and outcomes of interest. 

In order to be able to more definitively analyze the effectiveness of the apps, researchers will then survey 400 high school juniors from partner schools to gauge their college aspirations and social media use. This portion of the study will identify three apps to be used in a controlled study, based on the evaluation of app features, social media and college access patterns, and consultations with the granting organizations and the app developers. The 400 students will be divided into four sets, with three of these groups using one of the selected apps and one group serving as the control group that will not use an app.

The study will follow the students’ app use throughout the 2014-2015 school year and, once the trial has concluded, it will assess their college aspirations, enrollment decisions, and whether they applied for financial aid in a timely manner. Lastly, Ellison’s team will use Clearinghouse data to identify which students enrolled in college, enabling the study to compare any changes in college attendance between the app users and the control group.

Ellison received a previous grant from the College Knowledge Challenge and developed her own application for students, the College Connect app. This app aims to allow high school students to utilize their Facebook network to identify individuals who are likely to be valuable resources of college-related information. College Connect targets first-generation college students who want to build connections and social capital around the college-going process, but may not have close friends or family members with knowledge about obtaining a college degree.

Posted ON Wednesday, January 8, 2014